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Cooper v. Brinegar

United States District Court, D. Maryland

September 8, 2015

ROBERT COOPER, #209556 Plaintiff,
v.
BRAD BRINEGAR, et al. FRANK C or F DAVIS,

MEMORANDUM

J. FREDERICK MOTZ, District Judge.

Pending is self-represented plaintiff Robert Cooper's complaint filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as supplemented. (ECF 1, 3). Defendants Warden Frank B. Bishop, CO II Brad Brinegar, CO II Clinton Davis, Sgt. Brett Payton, CO II William Logsdon, [5] CO II Brett Wilburn, CO II Charles Barb, CO II David Hedrick, Chief Michael Thomas, CO II Steven Wilson, CO II Jeremiah Fontaine, [6] CO II Nicholas Hetz, COII Matthew Davis, Mental Health Professional Counselor Supervisor Ronald Weber, [7] by their counsel, have filed a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, motion for summary judgment. (ECF 15). Cooper was provided an opportunity to file an opposition reply, with materials in support in accordance with the ruling Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d. 309 (4th Cir. 1975), and has filed an opposition. (ECF 31).[8]

After considering the pleadings, exhibits, and applicable law, the court finds a hearing is unnecessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2014). For reasons to follow, defendants' motion (ECF 27) will be granted.

PLAINTIFF'S CLAIMS

Cooper is presently an inmate at the Western Correctional Institution. His claims are premised on two separate incidents. First, Cooper claims he was subjected to excessive force on February 25, 2014 by defendants Hetz, M. Davis, B. Wilburn, Logsdon, Brinegar, and Barb.[9] Cooper claims they took him to the lobby of Housing Unit 4 where they kicked, beat, and sprayed him with pepper spray, while stating "Go tell this." Cooper alleges that when he was picked up off the floor there was a hand-held video camera[10] on the scene. Cooper claims he was then taken to a strip cage where the kicking, beating, and use of pepper spray continued. (ECF 1, ¶ 1, ECF 3).

Next, Cooper claims on that March 3, 2014, Officers M. Davis, Beal, and V. Lark[11] "allowed" his cellmate to injure him with a meal tray. (ECF 1, ¶ 2, ECF ¶ 2). Cooper claims that at approximately 11:45 a.m. that day he informed Officer Lark that he did not feel safe in the cell with his cellmate and asked to be placed on suicide watch. Cooper claims Lark "just walked away from the cell without saying anything." Id. Later that day, at approximately 2:45 p.m., Cooper informed defendants Davis and Beal during cell count that "his cellmate had assaulted and battered him with a dietary hard tray and that his eye was swollen." Cooper avers Davis looked at his eye, said "I don't see anything, " and walked away. Id. Cooper claims Davis and Beal came to his cell five minutes later, removed him from his cell, and repeatedly hit him with a meal tray. Cooper claims he was then taken to the strip cage, sprayed with pepper spray, and left without his "life threatening medications and basic human needs."[12]

Cooper is requesting damages and injunctive relief, including preliminary injunctive relief.

LEGAL STANDARD

I. Motion to Dismiss

The purpose of a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) is to test the sufficiency of the plaintiff's complaint. See Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir.1999). Except in certain specified cases, a plaintiff's complaint need only satisfy the "simplified pleading standard" of Rule 8(a), Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 513 (2002), which requires a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). In order to survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Generally, when ruling on a 12(b)(6) motion, the court assumes that the facts alleged in the complaint are true and draws all reasonable factual inferences in the nonmoving party's favor. Edwards, 178 F.3d at 244. A complaint need not provide "detailed factual allegations, " but it must "provide the grounds of [the plaintiff's] entitlement to relief" with "more than labels and conclusions" or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555(internal quotations omitted).

II. Motion for Summary Judgment

Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure states a court "shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). A material fact is one that "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A genuine issue over a material fact exists "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. In considering a motion for summary judgment, a judge's function is limited to determining whether sufficient evidence exists on a claimed factual dispute to warrant submission of the matter to a jury for resolution at trial. Id. at 249.

In undertaking this inquiry, the court must consider the facts and all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Ricci v. DeStefano, 557 U.S. 557 (2009); Scott, 550 U.S. at 378. The court must also abide by its affirmative obligation to prevent factually unsupported claims and defenses from going to trial. Drewitt v. Pratt, 999 F.2d 774, 778-79 (4th Cir. 1993). If the evidence presented by the nonmoving party is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment must be granted. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50. A party opposing summary judgment must "do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986); see also In re Apex Express Corp., 190 F.3d 624, 633 (4th Cir. 1999).

Recognizing that Cooper is a self-represented litigant, the complaint will be held to a less stringent standard than that drafted by an attorney. See Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978) (discussing liberal construction of pro se pleadings). Federal courts are charged with liberally construing a complaint filed by a pro se litigant to allow the development of a potentially meritorious case. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). The requirement of liberal construction does not mean, however, that the court can ignore a clear failure in the pleading to allege facts which set forth a claim currently cognizable in a federal district court. See Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 390-91 (4th Cir. 1990).

DISCUSSION

In support of their dispositive motion, defendants assert defenses of respondeat superior, lack of exhaustion of claims, and failure to state a claim. Additionally, they maintain there are materials facts in dispute to suggest a constitutional violation has occurred, and they are entitled to summary judgment in their favor as a matter of law. Further, they posit that even if this court were to find a violation of constitutional rights, they are entitled to summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity. Defendants have submitted verified exhibits and declarations in support of their motion.

I. Defendant's Exhibits

A. February 24, 2014 Incident

1. Reports

Defendants' account of the incident is set forth in the Use of Force Report. The report indicates Officer Hill was returning Cooper to his cell following a medical appointment. After Hill removed Cooper's handcuffs, Hill witnessed Cooper turn and start striking Coates, his cellmate, on his head, face, and torso. Hill called for assistance by radio and issued several verbal commands for Cooper to cease the assault, which Cooper ignored. Officer Matthew Davis arrived and administered a short burst of pepper spray to Cooper's face through the portal in the cell door. Cooper, however, continued assaulting Coates.

Davis' spray applicator was empty or malfunctioning. Officer Hetz arrived and administered a short burst of pepper spray to Cooper's face. After the second application, Cooper stopped his assault. Both inmates were handcuffed and taken to the medical room where they were treated for pepper spray exposure and minor abrasions, and provided a shower. Coates was placed back ...


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